The exhaustion. The anxiety and worry. The pressure to bounce back. Those crazy postpartum hormones sure can take a toll on your mental state in the weeks and months that follow giving birth. Most women admit to feeling some mental and emotional stress during this time. For up to 20% of postpartum women, that stress can actually turn into a more serious case of anxiety and/or depression.
New mama, if there’s ever a time to slow down and prioritize self care, this is the time.
While you can’t wave a magic wand and fast forward through the ups and downs of the postpartum period, there are several proven steps you can take to assure your mental health is getting the attention it deserves following the arrival of your new baby.
Take care of your basic hygiene needs. If you haven’t experienced motherhood yet, you may think this advice is a little ridiculous. But trust me, it needs to be said. Make things like taking a shower and brushing your teeth priority numero uno. It’s truly possible to spend an entire day nursing, pumping, changing, and rocking the baby and never take the time to put yourself together.
Making self-care a priority during the postpartum period is vital to your mental health. When you feel fresh and clean on the outside, you’ll feel better on the inside, too. Try to squeeze in your put-yourself-together routine as early as possible, whether it be before your partner leaves for work in the morning or during baby’s first nap of the day.
Nourish your body. There’s a reason it’s called labor—childbirth is hard work. After your body has done one of the most extraordinary things it will ever do, you’ll enter a time of intense healing, both mentally and physically. In addition, if you are nursing your baby, the demands on your mind and body are even more strenuous. Never before has good nutrition been so essential!
The key to a great postpartum diet is simplicity and balance. However, keeping your meals easy does NOT mean fast food and frozen pizza. On the contrary, meals that include lean meats, healthy fats, whole grains, and lots of fruits and veggies can keep you feeling satisfied and promote healing. Pair these balanced meals with a few nourishing snacks, and you’ll be on your way to restoration and wholeness! Here are a few specific nutritional tips to promote optimal healing for mind and body:
- Prevent low potassium. Postpartum women often experience a significant drop in potassium associated with a decrease in progesterone. This drop can lead to irritability, fatigue and depression. Including bananas and squash in your diet will help increase potassium and other essential nutrients.
- Include trace minerals in your diet. Trace minerals such as selenium and zinc are essential to a postpartum diet. It’s been demonstrated that consuming the recommended amount of these minerals can relieve anxiety and depression. How to get more in your diet? Consume red meat (in moderation), seeds, beans, fish and Brazil nuts.
- Fight inflammation. The stress of giving birth can cause your body to respond with inflammation. This can wreak havoc on your mood, causing brain fog, fatigue, and a feeling of being detached. To fight this internal inflammation, it is recommended to avoid white sugar completely. Instead, make sure your diet is rich in foods such as dark berries and cherries, nuts, green leafy vegetables, olive oil, and fatty fish such as salmon. Including Magnesium in your diet is also recommended, as low levels of this essential mineral can contribute to high stress. This powerful anti-inflammatory is found in pumpkin seeds, avocado, and bananas.
- Stay Hydrated. Why is staying hydrated is so important for postpartum mental health? When we drink the right amount of water, our circulation keeps moving as intended. It keeps our blood flowing and oxygen traveling to all parts of the body including the brain. However, when we start to become dehydrated, our oxygen levels suffer (along with our mental clarity). Aim for at least 72 ounces of water a day during the postpartum period and 96 ounces if you are breastfeeding.
- Placenta Pills. Encapsulating the placenta after birth is all the rage these days, and rightly so. This practice is known for promoting healing and a general feeling of well-being in postpartum women, as well as increasing energy levels. Many women who’ve tried this practice share they did not experience the roller coaster of emotions that commonly follow delivery. For more information about placenta consumption and its benefits, visit placentabenefits.info.
Move your body. If the weather is nice and your doctor has given you the go-ahead, take that new stroller for a spin! Walking outdoors can do wonders for your mental health after pregnancy. Exercise produces endorphins that energize you and help regulate your mood. Scientists have discovered physiological evidence that walking outside in nature can actually decrease insecurities, anxiety and stress. Getting out of your four walls can also make you feel connected to something bigger than yourself. Bonus? On a sunny day, you will soak in some natural Vitamin D which is essential for healing and mental clarity.
*If it’s too cold outside for the little one, ask Dad or Grandma to babysit for 20 minutes while you take a quick walk around the block. Even if you have to bundle up and face the cold, the fresh air will do wonders.
Ask for help. It is inevitable in the days that follow giving birth. People call, text, or drop by and ask what they can do to help. So often, though, new moms will turn down these requests because they either don’t know what to say or feel like they should be able to do it all.
Hear me mama: there is no shame in asking for help!
Dealing with the stresses of being a new mom is enough, there’s simply no room for guilt in your life right now. Whether it be with household responsibilities, your other children’s needs, or with your new baby, getting support is important for not only your physical healing, but your mental health. In the weeks approaching delivery, think through when and how help will be most beneficial to you. Then, when people ask, you’ll have several task that you can suggest. Here are a few ways friends, family, your partner, and even your older children can assist you:
- Prepare meals. Make sure you share any dietary requests with them so that you are eating the nourishing foods your body and mind need for healing.
- Run errands. Your friends and family are perfectly capable of going to the pharmacy, picking up dry cleaning, or running your 4-year-old to preschool. So let them.
- Clean your home. Mundane household tasks like folding laundry, doing the dishes and watering the plants can really zap a new mom’s energy and lead to unneeded stress. If someone wants to help you out, hand them a broom! A clean home will also make you feel happier and calm.
- Hold the baby. Let someone else soak in her cuteness long enough for you to nap, shower, call a friend, or something else that gives you a little me-time.
- Entertain other children. Don’t keep your older children prisoner in your home. Send them off with others who are willing to entertain them awhile and give yourself a break. Maybe they will even return home tired and ready for a nap?
Find a community. Connecting with other new moms for support and a listening ear is essential for mental well being. We are social beings, but having a baby can sometimes keep us shut in and feeling disconnected. Make it a priority to seek out and find your mom tribe. Whether you already have a few friends you can call on, or you are needing to meet new people to fill that void, spending time with other moms will give you a sense of belonging. You can share parenting experiences, vent about your mother-in-law, or ask for advice.
Searching for a group of moms to connect with but don’t know where to start? Try one of these well-known organizations:
- MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) *Not just for preschoolers anymore!
- MOMS Club (Moms Offering Moms Support)
- La Leche League (Breastfeeding Support Groups)
Childbirth recovery is a daunting task—both mentally and physically. It can take several months and requires you to exercise grace and patience towards yourself. As the baby takes the majority of your focus, making sure you practice these 5 tips for postpartum mental health will have you well on your way toward full restoration and healing in no time.